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Gunflint Lake holds a special spot in the hearts of outdoors fans in Minnesota's Northeastern Region. Almost 30 miles northwest of Grand Marais 'as the crow flies', Gunflint Lake calls out 'Northwoods Adventure' loud and clear. This large lake forms part of the boundary between the United States and Canada and is connected to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area's Magnetic Lake entry point by a narrow channel (Note: those entering Canada this way must obtain a Remote Area Border Crossing permit in advance).
Much of the southern lakeshore is within the Superior National Forest, while the northern Canadian shoreline is public lands. This isn't the usual northern resort lake, and there are few private residences along the lakeshore. The lake is hardly deserted, however; a strong, long-term community of tourism-related services share the area along the southwestern edge. They are a part of an entire 57-mile group of small businesses serving adventurers who drive, hike and bike along one of Minnesota's Scenic Byways, the Gunflint Trail.
Gunflint Lake stretches across over 4,000 acres and has a depth of up to 200 feet. A few swimming beaches are available along the shoreline in spots where a shoreline ledge has provided shallows. Most of these are only accessible to hikers, unless they are guests of one of the resort properties at the south and west sides. More visitors hike around the lake and fish the deep waters. The big lake holds sizable numbers of walleye, lake trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch and northern pike. A public access boat launch is operated by the U.S.Forest Service. Outfitters along the shore are ready to arrange fishing trip packages to direct anglers to the best spots among the underwater ledges. Many of the lakes in the area are no-motors lakes, but Gunflint Lake allows motorized craft. Fishing boats and pontoons can be rented from the largest lodge at the lake. Because the border passes through the middle of the lake, fishing licenses for both Minnesota and Canada are required. Ice fishing for lake trout is a special treat, and the camps are open year-round to accommodate winter fishermen and snow sportsmen. A sea-plane base at the lake serves to bring in guests by air much of the year. Other visitors drive the scenic Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais.
The area around Gunflint Lake is rich in wildlife, and one of the resort camps specializes in nature hikes, berry-picking excursions and moose viewing. There are many moose in the area, and visitors are more likely to see moose in the wild here than most other places in Minnesota. Outfitters take guests on canoe and kayak trips, overnight camping treks, and to the hidden spots where they can take the best photographs. Gunflint Lake connects to several other lakes, and the passages are usually accessible by canoe with short portages. One of the camps rents camping spaces and cabins where reservations are usually necessary due to their popularity. Another operates a small general store, the only nearby convenience store. Lake businesses provide services and amenities, so few visitors will find it necessary to drive the 45 miles to Grand Marais once they arrive.
Lodgings at Gunflint Lake range from rustic to 'northwoods elegant'. There are rental cottages available that sleep six with hot tubs on the decks. These facilities have become a favorite for corporate retreats and weddings. The lodge has developed wedding planning into a fine art, and several cottages are reserved for honeymooners. Amenities offered at these resorts range from on-site riding stables to zip lining among the tall pines. Outfitters lead hikes to nearby waterfalls or act as guides for multi-day canoeing treks among the many lakes. Mountain biking and nature observing on the many old logging trails in the area are favorite pastimes, particularly in spring and early summer when wildflowers bloom.
The lake is home a wide variety of waterfowl, including loons, herons and various ducks. Bald Eagles often soar above the lake, fishing. In winter, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling and sleigh rides are popular. Equipment for all of them can be rented at the lake. Lodges make it a point of pride to offer children's educational activities, discussions on local history and informative talks about the ecology of the region.
The Gunflint Trail is more than just great scenery. The entire trail covers over 50 miles and is accessible by car. Every few miles feature the trailhead of yet another hiking trail to view lakes, waterfalls and overlooks. Also along the trail are hotels, motels guest cottages, and plenty of places to stop for a meal. Multiple places to access the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are along the Trail, which ends in a loop around a historic campground and waterfall just beyond Sea Gull Lake. Much of the trail parallels the old voyageur water route of long-ago fur trappers. Although now a good paved road, the original trail was completed over many years around 1900. Some parts were private 'toll roads' built by property owners across their own land. The Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the trail during the Depression.
The Gunflint Trail even has its own historical society dedicated to preserving the rich history of mining, logging and settlement in the area. Operating out of a 1930's resort lodge, the building that the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center occupies is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unusual rocks found in the area of Gunflint Lake-and even used in building one lodge fireplace-were determined to be remnants of the explosion of the super-meteor that formed the Sudbury Basin over two billion years ago. The Basin is over 150 miles to the east, giving some indication of the power of the explosion.
Visiting Gunflint Lake is an adventure waiting to happen. The resorts and camps are mostly family-friendly and have thought of everything to make your visit rewarding and complete. A few private homes in the area may rent their properties from time to time, and real estate can be found on the limited amount of non-public land in the area. This is one wilderness area where you can count on finding a comfy bed in a modernized motel, camp or hotel-or a primitive campsite far from human habitation. Plan your visit and make reservations before summer fills up most of the resorts.
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